Building a better metalcasting platform: A work in progress

By Alex Lawton | December 1, 2021
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Alex Lawton, CEO, Lawton Standard

Last September, I told you about our vision for Lawton Standard – to transform a group of foundry-based companies with complementary capabilities and skillsets into an integrated platform. Here’s a progress report on our journey toward that goal.

To use a restaurant analogy, our goal has always been to assemble a broader menu for our customers, offering them more options and capabilities – metal type, casting size, complexity, value-adds, or other factors. This is because we want to serve a broader range of their needs.

Building a new business model in the foundry industry is challenging under normal circumstances. But trying to do it during a global pandemic and a significant recession has been like walking on a high wire without a net.

Whenever a business faces much change – whether it stems externally from marketplace factors or internally from strategic initiatives – it generates much chaos. So how do you come back from that? By building an agile and resilient culture and robust processes that emphasize continuous improvement.

Thanks to our incredible people and our Lean-focused culture, we’ve been making slow but steady progress integrating our multiple locations – C.A. Lawton De Pere, C.A. Lawton Minster, Penn-Mar, and Temperform – and operations (castings, machining, pattern-making, and so forth) – into a cohesive organization that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Our people are the key

Month by month, we’re getting better at using the skills and expertise of the talented people at our various sites to help each other out and solve our customers’ challenges. Our people learn from each other, enabling us to be more creative, productive, and reliable in our results. We’re getting better at pulling rabbits out of hats for our customers – not consistently yet, but we’re getting there.

A case in point: Earlier this year, we held an Iron 101 session for a significant customer of Penn-Mar’s at their facility. We invited engineers and other folks across Lawton Standard to this training event to educate a broad spectrum of people at this OEM about metalcasting and solve some problems they had been facing with several of their castings, ours, and several supplied by other foundries.

This event showcased the “deeper bench” we can bring to our customers’ most essential and sometimes complex metalcasting challenges.

We’re also in the midst of a major ERP implementation, which will enable our independent operations to act better as one coordinated system. Of course, we still have a long way to go, but seeing our vision becoming a reality is exciting.

An attention-getting business model

Our increasingly integrated approach has enabled us to have some fascinating conversations. As a result, we’ve been able to deepen our relationships with some of our existing customers, positioning us to meet more of their needs. It has also opened doors with prospects we haven’t previously done business with.

They sense that there’s something special or at least exciting going on at Lawton Standard. They’re naturally curious. They want to know more about what we’re doing and how our expanded suite of products can help them solve more of their casting challenges.

Those conversations haven’t always been positive. For example, they may want to know why we’re only temporarily able to deliver eight castings when they requested 12. But as we’ve learned, these discussions open the door for us to tell them what we’re doing right and what we’re working on to deliver greater value to them – today and tomorrow.

At the same time that we’re enhancing and integrating our offerings, we’re also learning how to tell our story better. As a result, our business model will become a significant differentiator over time compared to the other supplier options available to our customers and prospects.

Like most sophisticated companies, our customers are keenly interested in the future of their suppliers. They’re still facing significant supply chain challenges. In that respect, we’ve got a great story to tell. We’re showing them that we’re working hard and smart to do top-notch work. We’ve got solid plans to expand the goods and services we provide, backed by a significant level of energy and investment. We will be here tomorrow, next month, year, and decade.

How long it’s taking us to get there keeps me up at night. While some marvel at how fast we are moving and developing, I want us to consistently crush it for our customers in terms of quality, value, and the level of technical and customer service we provide. We’ve got many people working hard to get us there. 

What’s next for Lawton Standard?

We are all working together and writing the next chapter of Lawton Standard’s history. Step by step, we’re turning our vision for a better metalcasting experience into a reality.

So what are the next steps on our journey?

We’re carefully considering several more acquisitions to fill gaps in our product line – additional “menu options,” if you will. We’re cautiously weighing what it costs us to acquire additional capacity versus building it. We’re keenly aware that when you acquire any company, you also pick up inevitable headaches. Thankfully, you also inherit some great people, know-how, and customers. We want to enhance our total offering but not create too much drag in the process.

After the acquisition activity dies down, we’ll turn our attention to improving our infrastructure – making investments in equipment, automation, processes, and other vital areas that will help us continue to improve our quality and productivity.

In closing, we look forward to being a better supplier tomorrow – not just better than the competition but exceeding our customers’ expectations and internal benchmarks. Delighting stakeholders – our employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and the industry – is a relative novelty. We aim to change that.